High Desert Hoofbeats
Spring splendor...
by Sena Taylor Hauer
Apr 25, 2013 | 502 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
There’s a stretch along the river road this time of year that smells like pure honey. A small abundance of desert holly is blooming brighter there than the forsythia in town, and while their beauty is certainly eye-catching, it’s the aroma of flowering sweetness that seeps through my rolled-up car windows that catches my interest. Every year at this time, give or take a week, I’ll catch a whiff of that lovely smell and then notice the golden bushes.

That’s one of the many spring splendors I enjoy about our desert. The Indian paintbrush in some places are already past their prime, and the claret cup cacti which mimic the scarlet of the paintbrush are showing their royal colors. Recent rains have allowed the little barrel-type cacti and prickly pear to swell to near bursting, and I can’t wait to see their pink and yellow blooms.

I enjoy flowers of all kinds. This past winter was tough on my little patch of landscaping. I’m probably at fault for not watering them sufficiently before they went into what was to become a very cold and harsh season. Many of my nursery-bought pinion trees that we planted seven years ago emerged from winter covered with brown needles, and some are downright dead. Ditto for many of my rose bushes. In the last 16 years I’ve lost established roses to winter kill, either because I had pruned them incorrectly before frost or they weren’t sufficiently watered before frost. Perhaps the combination of those factors and a really cold winter is to blame.

Oh well. Roses are easy and fairly cheap to replace, at about $10 to $15 a bush. Not so for the pinions, which will be like digging up dead horses to remove and replant. Here it is not even May and I am getting crosswise with Mother Nature and her flora.

The lamb-like March weather we enjoyed made me completely ignore the hard and true fact that Moab’s frost-free date is on or about April 15. This year it was even later. I’m ashamed to admit that Mother Nature’s April Fool’s trick has caused me to plant and replace several six-packs of tomatoes and basil. Twice.

My mom has checked her fruit trees, and found that some of her apricots are still OK. They may be sparse but they will be robust in size. Hopefully the peaches and plums will come right along too. Some of it depends on where the pockets of frost hit hardest. I remember some recent years when there were hardly any apricots in Moab, but they were plentiful in Castle Valley and Monticello, where the trees were smart enough to bloom later in the season.

I’ve always had a curious thought about the gardeners’ term of “hardening off” in reference to spring plants that need to get acclimated to being outdoors. The bedding plants that were recently trucked into Moab stores, some of which I purchased for planting in my own garden, were not “hardened off” when I bought them. They’d had just the right light, water, fertilizer, temperature and baby powder on their rear ends to make them look like hardy little specimens that would want to grow for me. But like shrinking violets, once planted in my containers and flower beds, they suffered from imperfect conditions, namely cold temperatures and wind. There is no Moab spring that passes without these harsh conditions, and sometimes I think that the nursery plants aren’t the only Moab specimens that have to harden off to the changing seasons.

This challenge of gardening in severe weather makes me think I should give it all up and buy a share of a community garden, but I haven’t resorted to that yet. I love the idea of community-supported agriculture, but not at the cost of quitting my own gardening. Something tells me, though, that some combination of the two is in my future.

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